Czech government presses ahead with nuclear plans as Poland suspends programme

Atomkraftwerk Dukovany (Foto: Dr. Killer, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Same day, two different stories about nuclear power in the Czech Republic and neighbouring Poland.

Dukovany nuclear power plant, photo: Dr. Killer, CC BY-SA 3.0
On Wednesday, the Czech government announced the creation of three working groups to push ahead with plans to build nuclear reactors in the country to replace aged capacity and boost nuclear power production to around half of the country’s electricity needs.

In Warsaw, the Polish finance ministry announced it was suspending its very ambitious nuclear programme aimed at securing future power supplies and curbing the use of coal-fired power plants. The ministry said that previous financing proposals burdening the state budget were simply not acceptable. The nuclear plans could still be revived but other options, such as modern coal plants would also be looked at, the ministry added.

In Prague, the statement from the Ministry of Industry and Trade said that the creation of the new working groups gave new impetus to the government strategy to boost nuclear power. That was agreed mid-way through 2015 by the current government.

The three groups cover financial strategy; legislative and legal aspects, technical aspects. The first will analyse the models for paying for the new capacity. The second will look at ways to curb the existing delays and speed up the preparations, approvals, and licensing process. And the last will pore over the different reactor offers of the six companies and groupings that answered the Czech government call for expressions of interest last year. Interestingly enough, the task of chairing the groups has been shared out between the finance ministry, regional development, and the industry ministry.

The groups’ main reference points will be the expressions of interest sent in so far and talks with specific company bosses which are due to start at the end of this week and continue for around 10 days.

Czech nuclear plans are currently a mixture of the fairly clear, fairly fuzzy, and extremely unclear. It’s clear that a decision will be needed by around 2025 if a new reactor or reactors are to be built at Dukovany to replace the four units there which will be phased out from 2035 onwards. That’s the overwhelming priority. State controlled ČEZ is currently piloting the nuclear preparations, but it could eventually give way to a specially created state company or some joint venture with the international nuclear constructer eventually selected. And the overall power outlook, not just electricity prices but future demand as well given the continued roll-out of renewables and EU moves to curb demand are all also major intangibles.

Some of the targets for the working groups to report back are as early as May and June but other stretch out for the years to come. In theory though the Czech government should be making a decision about whether it will be willing to finance new nuclear capacity by the middle of the year. But whether any decision will be binding on a new government so close to elections is another question.

So, while Wednesday’s news looked so different on the surface, the doubts and uncertainties about new nuclear are widely shared.